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Saturday, September 16, 2006

Two Churches Attacked In West Bank This Morning

AP Newsday:
Two West Bank Christian churches were hit by firebombs early Saturday, and a group claiming responsibility said it was protesting Pope Benedict XVI's remarks about Islam.
The article says that the Christian clergy in the West Bank say these are isolated incidents, but yesterday there was a minor bomb at a Greek Orthodox church in Gaza.

I have been reading up on the Pope's speech and the reaction to it this morning. Of course I read the bloggers: The Anchoress, Sigmund, Carl and Alfred, The Pondering American. Cartago Delenda Est has a summary of reader commentary posted in response to a Daily Mail article. I figured Darcey at Dust My Broom would have something pithy to say, and he did:
He is now being compared to medieval crusaders and Hitler for quoting words that are over six hundred years old and they were taken out of context. Instead of immediate condemnation, burning effigies, staging protests and now a suspicious bombing of a church in Gaza, couldn’t the holy leaders enter into some sort of dialogue to refute what was said and clarify? If not and violence erupts would it not prove out those six hundred year old words?
Darcey predicts a pickup in both western criticism of Islam and Muslim riots in protest.

Then I read the outraged statements of Muslims in the west and around the world, and went on to the speech itself. The work the Pope quoted is by Adel Theodor(e) Khoury, who is a Catholic theologian (born in Lebanon) who has provided the theological groundwork for a common understanding between Islam and Catholicism. See, for example, this essay on Abraham in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, which ends:
Membership in the posterity of Abraham can foster an open encounter between the faithful of the three Abrahamic religions. By relating to his faith and to his obedience to the commands of God, even amidst trials and tribulations, one can find in him a common point of reference which embraces all men of good will, open to faith and disposed to embrace the good. This attitude is capable of broadening the horizons of believers so as to make room for all human beings and all peoples and to make them witnesses of the blessing God granted to Abraham and that he entrusted to him for all the nations of the earth.

Rather than being an object of dispute and wrangling between the three faiths that claim him, Abraham can become the initiator and the guarantor of a serious dialogue between them and of a fruitful cooperation for the good of all humanity.

For we live today in a world which, in the context of pervasive globalization, is no longer and can no longer be the world that some individuals can confiscate for their profit at the expense of others. Our present is the present of all of us together, and our future is the future of all of us together. We must finally stop treating one other like adversaries; we must succeed in making ourselves partners of one another; and we must strive to create between us an atmosphere of trust that will render us capable of becoming — if God wills it — one another’s friends. This will lead us to practice a universal solidarity with each other and all of us together with respect to all human beings, the solidarity of all with respect to all.
Freedom's Zone contains the best overall analysis of the speech regarding its actual content that might be offensive to Muslims that I have found. The speech's overall thrust was toward the west, and Pope Benedict's theme was the necessity to exercise the full range of human reason in order to sustain European society. In that pursuit, the pontiff reviewed quite a bit of the history of man's conceptions of God, as in:
The mysterious name of God, revealed from the burning bush, a name which separates this God from all other divinities with their many names and declares simply that he is, already presents a challenge to the notion of myth, to which Socrates' attempt to vanquish and transcend myth stands in close analogy. Within the Old Testament, the process which started at the burning bush came to new maturity at the time of the Exile, when the God of Israel, an Israel now deprived of its land and worship, was proclaimed as the God of heaven and earth and described in a simple formula which echoes the words uttered at the burning bush: "I am."

This new understanding of God is accompanied by a kind of enlightenment, which finds stark expression in the mockery of gods who are merely the work of human hands (cf. Psalm 115).
After reviewing with approval the Greek contribution to early Christian thought, the pontiff takes a swipe at some western theological deviations (and later, Protestant innovations):
In all honesty, one must observe that in the late Middle Ages we find trends in theology which would sunder this synthesis between the Greek spirit and the Christian spirit.
This gives rise to positions which clearly approach those of Ibn Hazn and might even lead to the image of a capricious God, who is not even bound to truth and goodness. God's transcendence and otherness are so exalted that our reason, our sense of the true and good, are no longer an authentic mirror of God, whose deepest possibilities remain eternally unattainable and hidden behind his actual decisions.
As opposed to this, the faith of the Church has always insisted that between God and us, between his eternal Creator Spirit and our created reason there exists a real analogy, in which unlikeness remains infinitely greater than likeness, yet not to the point of abolishing analogy and its language (cf. Lateran IV).
And continues:
This inner rapprochement between biblical faith and Greek philosophical inquiry was an event of decisive importance not only from the standpoint of the history of religions, but also from that of world history -- it is an event which concerns us even today. Given this convergence, it is not surprising that Christianity, despite its origins and some significant developments in the East, finally took on its historically decisive character in Europe. We can also express this the other way around: This convergence, with the subsequent addition of the Roman heritage, created Europe and remains the foundation of what can rightly be called Europe.
This is where the real offensiveness to some varieties of Islam lies. By claiming both that God must remain accessible to human reason, and that our culture itself is founded in the dual traditions of reason and faith, Pope Benedict is implicitly asserting that reason and free inquiry are necessary components of our society. He then comments on the functional error of modern relativist thinking - that it derationalizes society:
It is man himself who ends up being reduced, for the specifically human questions about our origin and destiny, the questions raised by religion and ethics, then have no place within the purview of collective reason as defined by "science" and must thus be relegated to the realm of the subjective.

The subject then decides, on the basis of his experiences, what he considers tenable in matters of religion, and the subjective "conscience" becomes the sole arbiter of what is ethical. In this way, though, ethics and religion lose their power to create a community and become a completely personal matter. This is a dangerous state of affairs for humanity, as we see from the disturbing pathologies of religion and reason which necessarily erupt when reason is so reduced that questions of religion and ethics no longer concern it.
Okay, I understand and agree with him, but it then must follow that religion and ethics must be subject to criticism and analysis, for without criticism and analysis, reason has no function. Here I think the pontiff does take a stance which logically implies that no form of Islam insisting upon its right to be immune to criticism on penalty of violence can be permitted in the west. He is also directly attacking the Dawkinish appeasionists, which want to avoid the clash with this form of Islam by removing all religion from the public square. I believe he is right. But it is only when one acknowledges this point that one understands his earlier emphasis upon the setting and the stage of the Byzantine emperor's remarks, which was in the barracks during a Muslim attack on Byzantium. Surely the pontiff must intend to recall to us that we have faced the fall of our civilization before, and that we will see our civilization fall now unless we mount a concerted defense of it.

So this is a rather blistering critique on two fronts, but both of them are European fronts, and the primary front is western civilization's seeming willingness to abrogate full reason in favor of a falsely objective scientific standard. Science, due to its self-limitation to the verifiable and material, cannot alone provide an ethical basis for a workable society. Science gives us knowledge, but knowledge alone does not give us solutions to societal problems. Science gives us more ways to solve problems, but does not tell us which will succeed in the long run or provide a foundation for making a decision. And surely the pontiff means to at least imply that if we abandon the ability of western reason to grapple with these issues, then Islamic theology will take the empty field and wrest control of European society!

The idea that science alone can be form a reasonable foundation for a successful society is a decisively western idea, and it is this idea which the Pope is attacking. The first few paragraphs of the speech suggest the conflict, and here he closes it:
The positive aspects of modernity are to be acknowledged unreservedly: We are all grateful for the marvelous possibilities that it has opened up for mankind and for the progress in humanity that has been granted to us. The scientific ethos, moreover, is the will to be obedient to the truth, and, as such, it embodies an attitude which reflects one of the basic tenets of Christianity.

The intention here is not one of retrenchment or negative criticism, but of broadening our concept of reason and its application. While we rejoice in the new possibilities open to humanity, we also see the dangers arising from these possibilities and we must ask ourselves how we can overcome them.

We will succeed in doing so only if reason and faith come together in a new way, if we overcome the self-imposed limitation of reason to the empirically verifiable, and if we once more disclose its vast horizons. In this sense theology rightly belongs in the university and within the wide-ranging dialogue of sciences, not merely as a historical discipline and one of the human sciences, but precisely as theology, as inquiry into the rationality of faith.
And here we are again posed the logical conclusion: if any stream of religion or human thought will not allow itself to be subject to reason, it cannot be permitted to have sway, or the walls of Europe have fallen.

I like your analysis here, a quick glance in my lunch-break, albeit a late one.

Will be back for a closer read later.
I am religious myself (although I used not to be), but I also firmly believe that the enlightenment concept that religion must be forced to justify itself in human society is deeply moral and ethical.

Is this not what this pope is saying? Isn't it what we all, religious and non-religious, say we believe?

Why then the outrage?
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